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June 2020 issue is now available!


Buck Brannaman, Believe


Review by Nancy Brannon

Buck Brannaman, with William Reynolds, has published a revised edition to his 2004 book Believe. Like the earlier edition, this 2019 revised edition chronicles Buck’s teaching and training methods and how they have helped particular students of his. Each chapter illuminates a particular theme, and then the student tells about their experience with Buck and how he has helped them overcome their obstacle(s).

In the foreword to this edition, William Reynolds writes about Buck, “…the horses and the people he has touched through their horses are better off. They seemed to take quickly to his approach of working on an equal relationship, from a place of mutual respect and understanding.”

Buck writes, “The moment of complete mutual respect and trust marks the beginning of a relationship between a horse and human that’s one of the most special relationships you can have with an animal.” (p. 55)

Throughout the book Buck emphasizes that these “natural horsemanship” methods apply just as well to people’s life circumstances as they do to the horses he trains. I wasn’t long into the book before I got out my pencil to start underlining the universal messages from Buck that can make life better for horses and for people. Here are some snippets of his wisdom.

“Sometimes just a small act of kindness is all you need to get started. Kindness is contagious.” (p.5)

“…taking a moment to offer help to someone in need can make a great difference for just about everyone involved.” (p. 6)

Buck often emphasizes “responding positively.” (p. 7) “A supreme being is directing us, if we would just listen,” Buck writes. He hopes that his “role in this life may be used in a manner that hopefully does some good for others.” (p. 121)
In Coping with Fear, Sherry’s lesson is to learn how to replace her fear with knowledge – about whatever it is that one fears.

In Qualities for Success, Buck says “the things that are important in making a person a good horseman are also necessary in a good companion or friend, someone real desirable to be around.” (p. 15) In this chapter Buck describes the qualities for success: intuition, sensitivity, the ability to change, presence, a nonaggressive attitude, determination, humility, and love. He follows by describing the potential for failure to people (and horses) who don’t have these qualities.
On yielding: “Yielding is not about submission. It’s more a matter of showing respect for one another, that selfless, respectful sort of yielding.” (P. 22)

“The essence of hooking on is a matter of getting a horse’s undivided attention and being able to keep it.” (p. 24) In Theresa’s Story, the lesson Theresa learns is that “humility is the beginning of real learning” (p. 31) and that “free forward motion is the key to everything in the horse.” (p. 33).

Throughout the book Buck, and testimonials from his students, emphasize how “the horse is such a powerful teacher because it has a much broader range of expression than the human.” (p. 38) “Horses don’t lie. There are no hidden agendas, just pure truth.” (p. 101)

In Overcoming the Past, Buck emphasizes that “in order to move forward in our lives, we have to let go of the things from the past that hold us back.” (p. 50)

In Laurie’s Story, Laurie is impressed with Buck’s “ability to communicate with horses.” (p. 57) “Buck’s wisdom is very basic: It’s all about how you learn to run your life,” and she admires how Buck has turned his life into something so healthy and positive. “To communicate, you not only have to make yourself heard clearly, but you also have to really listen to others. You’ll get nowhere if you and your horse can’t communicate, just as you’ll get nowhere in life if you can’t communicate well with people. If you really look and listen to your horse, he’ll tell you what’s wrong.” (pp. 58-60)
Another pertinent theme is “release,” remembering to let go – let go of defenses, give willingly, and strive for lightness. (pp. 64-65)

In Susan’s Story, Susan relates that “Buck talks a lot about the comfort that a horse feels by being touched in ways that its mother would.” Rather than trying to manipulate the world, the horses and people around us, it’s “a Zen way of being: not about having to be anything other than what you are right now. Don’t worry about something that hasn’t happened yet.” (p. 87) One could also call this the Mr. Rogers approach: I like you just the way you are.

“Learning to give is a very important life lesson for all of us,” Buck writes. “Aren’t the qualities of giving and patience and acceptance the same things we’re looking for in our relationships with humans? If we could only learn how to yield rather than resist, to give rather than to take, to put timid, frightened people at ease with calm assurance and patience – what a different world this would be!” (pp. 94-95)

In Making the Right Thing Easy, the key is to “encourage the right behavior and don’t respond to the wrong behavior, and eventually the right behavior is what you’ll end up with.” (pp. 103-104) That’s right out of the “operant conditioning” manual, with negative reinforcement for unwanted behavior. It’s in this chapter that Buck shows the importance of critical thinking, although he doesn’t call it that. “Observe, remember, and compare. It’s important to observe the results of what you’ve done and especially to remember which actions prompted which results.” (p. 105) “You don’t want to push the horse into something; you want him to go willingly. You’re trying to offer the horse a good deal, and it should be offered with a happy heart.” (p. 106)

Sissy’s Story lesson is that “it’s important to do what makes you happy and to put your heart into everything you do. It’s about how you treat animals, and by extension, how you treat others.” (p. 129)

In Diane’s Story, Diane’s realization is “how moving it was to see what could be accomplished without gadgets and contraptions.” (p. 143) “A sense of calm permeated the arena; Buck exuded confidence and understanding. …He allowed his sensitivity to be seen and encouraged others to do the same.” (pp. 146, 148)

Buck often emphasizes the importance of seeing the big picture. So, for me, a key message of the book is: “All creatures on the planet have a responsibility to each other; we are not separate entities but a part of the whole. I have learned the importance of working with nature, rather than against her.” (p. 153)

The last story in the book, Shayne’s Story in the chapter on Rebellion and Recovery, is a poignant tale of how horses and natural horsemanship methods helped a young man overcome his persistent drug addiction. These days, with the massive Opioid addiction problem, and even people addicted to their cell phones, I have hope that these methods could apply to solving those problems, too.

An excellent summary comes from Jimmy Pepper in the last chapter, The Metaphysical Horseman. He analyses Buck’s pedagogy (teaching methods) as “a synthesis of theory and practice,” which “requires us to first calm our egos in order to free ourselves to communicate on the horse’s terms. Patience, honesty, and presence are the essential qualities that are the core of natural horsemanship.” (p. 180)

In the Afterword to this edition, Buck writes about establishing the annual gathering called the “Legacy of Legends” to honor the work of Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance and Bill Dorrance. Last June (2018) and in 2017, Lisa Sparks shared her experiences at the Legacy of Legends in the Mid-South Horse Review:

And in 2016, LaCresha Kolba wrote about the Buck Brannaman clinic in Shelbyville, Tenn.

You can read more about Buck Brannaman at his website:

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